The Jazz looked dead after a dispiriting road loss to Dallas two Sundays ago, and it’s tempting to write them off again after their defense no-showed (or, alternatively, showed up in its usual form) last night against a very enthusiastic Denver team missing its best player. But it’s too early to declare the Jazz dead. The most sophisticated playoff odds predictors have them somewhere between a 50/50 shot and 35/65 underdog to overtake the Lakers for the no. 8 spot.
Much like their Northwest Division rival Denver Nuggets, the Utah Jazz are a collection of talented youngsters and productive veterans void of a superstar. Without a clear central figure, the pressure has been on head coach Ty Corbin to identify the best rotation of players that are, almost to a man, multi-talented but somewhat limited in some facet of the game.
The lineup data shows that the Jazz boast some downright awful five-man units, but they also have a few very productive ones. Injuries have forced the team into some tough spots this year, but among its roster, Utah may have the right combinations to seriously compete with the West’s elite rather than settling for a one-and-done stay in the playoffs. The main problem with that option is that it’s boring as hell.
Utah has multiple picks in next year’s first round, and and a few of those productive veterans — most notably Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap — are on expiring contracts. This makes the Jazz an ideal candidate for a big deadline move. By dealing one of their surplus big men to upgrade a backcourt in dire need of help (and making a few other small tweaks), the Jazz could become Denver 2.0 — a team that no one takes seriously as a Finals contender but that everyone wants to avoid in the postseason. To figure out how they might get there, I visited the trade machine and descended further into madness to whip up yet another ridiculous multi-team deal:
With the Lakers, Clippers and Kings hosting a whopping 28 home games in 28 days from March 11 through April 7 — all happening at Staples Center, which is only a wind-aided Andy Lee punt from Grantland's headquarters — we couldn't resist attending these 28 games and writing about as many of them as possible. For previous 28 Days Later dispatches, click here.
The thought came about halfway through the first quarter last night. The Clippers had hit their first six shots, and after another massive DeAndre Jordan dunk made it 17-8, Atlanta was forced to call timeout. For those six minutes, Chris Paul and his bunch were the Clippers that people had imagined when the season began. It was high-flying, shot-making, thrill-inducing basketball, and all I could think as both teams moved to their benches was that somehow, some way, I’d become bored with the most entertaining team in the NBA.
LeBron James is not the Incredible Hulk or Tupac. He does not thrive on hate. He is not fueled by rage. I don't think he's fueled by love, either. He plays basketball like an Apache helicopter and bites his nails. We're not going to know what basketball means to this guy until the (still inevitable, I think) day he wins a ring. Maybe he'll have a Jordan-crying/KG-screaming moment. Maybe he will just clap baby powder in our faces. Maybe he'll just bite his nails some more.